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Sexual revolution

The sexual revolution refers to a substantial change in sexual behaviour throughout the West and particularly in the United States, the United Kingdom and other wealthy English-speaking countries in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

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With oral contraceptives becoming widely available and the sexually-transmitted diseases present at the time mostly being easily treatable, much of the maturing baby boomer generation experimented with sex, outside the boundaries of marriage. Sex was much more explicitly discussed in books, music, and other media, with the publication of guides to sexual techniques. Sexual practices that were previously considered unsuitable for discussion, such as oral sex, orgasm, and homosexuality, were openly talked about.

Some historians argue that the sexual revolution was not a complete break from earlier Western sexual attitudes but rather a liberalization after a conservative period that only existed between the 1930s and 1950s. They note that the Cold War sparked a socially conformist identity which tended to be self-conscious of its appearance to the outside world. Within the United States, this conformism took on puritanical overtones which contradicted natural or culture-established human sexual behaviours. It was this period of Cold War puritanism, some say, that logically led to a cultural rebellion in the form of the "sexual revolution."

The extent to which the sexual revolution involved major changes in sexual behaviour, however, is questionable. Many observers have suggested that the main change was not that people had more sex or different types of sex, it was simply that they talked about it more openly than previous generations had done. In a nutshell, this point of view maintains that grandma had fun too—she just didn't tell anyone.

That said, it is clear that sexual behaviour did change radically for the vast majority of women, but only a generation after the "revolution" had begun. Women reaching sexual maturity after about 1984 have behaviours much more in common with the men of a generation earlier. They had more partners (two to three times), starting at an earlier age (by three to five years), than women of the generation of the 1970s. Nevertheless this rather radical change in actual behaviour is rarely reported on, being regarded as no longer newsworthy.

British writer Philip Larkin's poem "Annus Mirabilis" (1974) captures the spirit of the Sexual Revolution rather well. Here is the first stanza:

Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(which was rather late for me) -
Between the end of the "Chatterley" ban
And the Beatles' first LP.

(Read the whole poem (http://alt.venus.co.uk/weed/writings/poems/plam.htm).)

Social attitudes toward sexuality became notably more conservative in the 1980s in part because of the fear of AIDS.

Historical Development

The sexual revolution was an outgrowth of a process in recent history. It was a development in the Modern World which saw the collapse of the values[?] of a morality rooted in the Judaeo-Christian Heritage and the rise of attitudes that were accepting of greater sexual freedom and experimentation that spread all over the world and captured in the phrase free love.

This was a perhaps a throwback to over 2,000 years ago during the times of ancient Greece and Rome that provided the Graeco-Roman component of Western culture. During those times there was a different sexual and moral code. There were specific gods of love like the Greek Eros, from whom the word "erotic" is derived, and the Roman Cupid , who is the center of the modern Valentines Day. In Greek mythology these characters seduced, romanced, made love, lusted, cheated, and even raped each other in very graphic and colorful ways. This can be contrasted with the teachings of the Christian Church.

The power of religion as wielded by the Catholic and Protestant churches of Europe was radically undermined by the French Revolution of 1789 which saw the First Estate[?] of the nobles and the Second Estate[?] of the Church give way to the power of the Third Estate of the peasants which surged towards a secular way of life.

Modern Revolutions

The Industrial Revolution during the nineteenth century and the growth of science and technology, medicine and health care, resulted in better contraceptives being manufactured. Advances in the manufacture and production of rubber made possible the design and production of condoms that could be used by hundreds of millions of men and women to prevent pregnancy at little cost. Advances in steel production and immunology made an abortion a safe and harmless way of ending pregnancies. Advances in chemistry, pharmacology, and knowledge of biology, and human physiology and all sorts new drugs lead to the discovery and perfection of oral contraceptives also known as "The Pill". New drugs like Viagra helped impotent men have an erection and increased the potency of others. Purchasing an aphrodisiac and various sex toys became "normal". Sado-masochism ("S&M") gained popularity.

All these developments took place alongside and combined with an increase in world literacy and decline in religious observances. Old values such as the notion of "be fruitful and multiply" rooted in the Bible, for example, were cast aside as people continued to feel alienated from the past and adopted the life-styles of modernizing westernized cultures.


Discoveries in the field of photography and cinematography the perfection of the camera, for recording moving and still real-life pictures of real people revolutionized the spread of mass movie and photographic images. The rise of the movie industry in Hollywood combined with new techniques in marketing and advertising as well as studies of the psychology of consumers, created mass markets for attractive images first in monochrome of "black and white", later in color and technicolor and added to perfection in the sound system of cinema or movies.


Doctor Sigmund Freud of Vienna unmasked the roots of human behavior as being rooted in the libido . This new modern "science" of psychoanalysis revolutionized an entire culture's self image. Victorian prudishness was shoved aside by a new consciousness of a sex drive. Men had an Oedipus Complex[?] and women had penis envy according to Freud. The mother's breast was the source of all later erotic sensation. This new philosophy was the new intellectual and cultural underpinning ideology of the new age of sexual frankness.

Movie Stars are born

Beautiful women and extremely handsome men were rigorously selected to become movie stars[?] and when they were cast in films with romantic scenes of love, kissing, hugging, and flirting, an entire culture was transformed as it became more acceptable to show feelings of affection in public. The very conservative mood leading up to the twentieth century gave way to a growing erotic milieu as popularized by the movie industry emanating from the studios of places like Hollywood.

Nudity on screen was at first rare. But with the passage of time people became more tolerant of partial nudity[?] for men and the display of female actress's breasts, at first to adult audiences, and later to more general ones. The invention of television made it possible for scenes of love and romance to be broadcast into any home with a "TV". A whole genre of actors arose who were particularly well-endowed with charisma and " sex appeal". Thus an entire culture arose which was steeped in and eroticized by movie and TV culture, far removed from the more inhibiting times of an "Old Fashioned" morality rooted in "Bible-thumping" religion.

Famous names in entertainment became not just "Stars" but also "Goddesses". Beautiful women such as Marilyn Monroe, Raquel Welch, Brigitte Bardot, Jane Fonda, Sophia Loren, Madonna and later young imitators, were explicit in casting a sexual aura about themselves as actresses and to the celebrity-hungry media. A love scene[?] in every movie was accepted as the norm.

Kinsey and Masters & Johnson

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Alfred C. Kinsey published two surveys of modern sexual behavior. In 1948, Alfred C. Kinsey and his co-workers, responding to a request by female students at Indiana University for more information on human sexual behavior, published the book Sexual Behavior in the Human Male[?]. They followed this five years later with Sexual Behavior in the Human Female[?]. These books began a revolution in social awareness of, and public attention given to, human sexuality.

It is said that at the time, public morality severely restricted open discussion of sexuality as a human characteristic, and specific sexual practices, especially sexual behaviors that did not lead to procreation. Kinsey's books, which among other things reported findings on the frequency of various sexual practices including homosexuality, caused a furor. Many people felt that the study of sexual behavior would undermine the family structure and damage American society.

These books laid the groundwork for Masters and Johnson's life work. A ground breaking study called Human Sexual Response[?] in 1966 revealed the nature and scope of the sex practices of young Americans.

Elvis Rocks the boat

During the 1950s one particular singer and actor, Elvis Presley introduced a very fast style of dancing and performing, using his body gyrations in a sexually suggestive manner. He was dubbed "Elvis the Pelvis" for his trade-mark hip movements. Millions of young women became his fans and he was their "Idol". On stage[?] and in concert thousands of young females would squeal, shriek, and cry at his performances. He has been noted as being a prime factor in the "loss of inhibition" and "youth rebellion[?]" of the 1950s and 1960s.

The Beatles & Rolling Stones

A singing musical group called "The Beatles" from Great Britain took the world by storm. Their longish hairstyles and their "hip", "cool", and "groovy" behavior was instantly imitated by millions of young people. They were followed by The Rolling Stones. At this very same time, a "counter culture[?]" was born which began to openly preach the need to "make love not war" especially in the United States which was fighting the highly unpopular Vietnam War hated by young people.

Free Love

A new culture of "Free Love[?]" with tens of thousands of young people becoming "hippies" arose who preached the power of love and the beauty of sex as part of ordinary student life. This was part of a counter culture[?] that exists to the present. It became acceptable for colleges to allow co-educational housing where male and female students commingled freely.

Explicit Sex on Screen

Explicit sex on screen and acceptance of frontal nudity[?] by men and women on stage became the norm in many American and European countries, as the twentieth century ended. Special places of entertainment of striptease and lap dancing[?] proliferated. The famous Playboy Bunnies[?] set a trend. Men came to be entertained by topless women at night-clubs which also hosted "peep shows".

Pre-marital sex

Pre-marital sex[?] was openly adopted and if pregnancies did occur then abortion was easily available. This led to perceptions of the times being an "age of promiscuity", decadence and hedonism, and there was even a backlash in America as people sought to return to family values[?]. Music which influenced the young became more and more sexually graphic and explicit, to the point of denigrating women.

The Politics of Sex

Politics in the USA has become inter-twined with sexually-related issues, called the "politics of sex". A woman's right to an abortion pitted traditionalist Pro-Life activists against Pro-Choice permitting abortions. Sex between people of the same gender, the homosexuality that was strictly taboo in times when the Church dominated society, was no longer stigmatized. Lesbian and gay women and men demanded and received many rights previously reserved for heterosexual couples. Women and men who lived with each other without marriage sought "palimony[?]" equal to the alimony a divorced husband pays his ex-wife. Teenagers assumed their right to a sexual life with whomever they pleased. And bathers fought for the right to be topless or nude at beaches.

Playboy Magazine and Redefining Pornography

Pornography was not as stigmatized, and more mainstream movies depicted sexual intercourse as "entertainment", with hardly a stir of protest indicative of how far the sexual revolution had come. Magazines depicting nudity and sexual acts, some very sophisticated such as the leading Playboy magazine won acceptance as respectable journals where public figures felt safe expressing their opinions, arguing successfully that they were guaranteed freedom of speech by the United States Constitution. The feminist movement started with cries of "burn the bra", and later objected to the depiction of women as "objects" in such venues as pornographic magazines and at such contests as the annual "Miss World" and "Miss Universe" contests.

Internet & Cyber Sex

The rise of the Internet and the usage of computers by young children in huge numbers has caused alarm that the vast amounts of visually explicit images of sex and sexual behavior online is a threat to society. Internet companies provide filters[?], but this has not stopped young and old from seeking out sex on the world wide web . A new phenomenon of cyber sex in chatrooms[?] and via instant messaging has become popular. This is similar to the rise of phone sex where another modern invention is put to use in the age of the sexual revolution.

"Monicagate" and The Starr Report

President Bill Clinton faced impeachment in 1998 based on the Starr Report[?], stemming from a stream of such acts which he denied. The names Jennifer Flowers[?], Paula Jones[?], and Monica Lewinsky have become ingrained in the public consciousness as symbols of free-wheeling sex, yet the public took it all in stride by the year 2000 and seemed to be rather unsurprised. This is perhaps an excellent illustration of how greatly attitudes have really changed.

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